Srinagar: A Turkish television series that mirrors Game of Thrones in opulence, scale and intrigue has smoothly beaten the internet ban in Kashmir to emerge as a community hit that families watch together.
Dirilis Ertugrul, which means ‘Resurrection Ertugrul’, is travelling from one household to another in flash drives, circumventing a government effort to stop local cable operators from airing content produced by Muslim countries such as Turkey, Pakistan and Iran.
Dirilis Ertugrul is a historical fiction series based on the life of Ertugrul, father of Ottoman Empire founder Osman I, and highlights the struggles of Kayi, a Turkic tribe that went on to establish one of the most powerful global empires in the Anatolia region.
Fans not only enjoy the show but say it has helped them “rediscover” Islamic history.
The show courted popularity in Kashmir before the internet shutdown as well, but the ensuing web blackout seems to have sent its viewership through the roof, including in previously uncharted areas of the Valley.
Rafi Ahmed, a resident of Srinagar’s Hazratbal, said his entire locality had been watching the series, which “has become a family activity”.
“It all started soon after the curfew days,” said Ahmed, referring to the restrictions on civilian movement in the early days of the Article 370 move and the public shutdown that followed.
“Youngsters would play cricket at the local playground for the whole day. Elders objected to the youngsters playing and creating noise all day. Someone among us suggested the youth be given Ertugrul to keep them busy and at home,” Ahmed added. “Within days, the hours of playing cricket decreased.”
According to Ahmed, this made elders curious about the series and how it had so enchanted the young ones.
“Now, after Maghrib (evening prayers), people, young and old, sit together to discuss Ertugrul, even forcing the mohalla president to issue orders to close down the hamam,” said Ahmed.
Hamam is a room built on a hollow space where wood is burnt to heat the floor of the area above. During the winter, hamams in mosques become a gathering place for people after prayers.
During the curfew that followed the scrapping of Article 370 on 5 August, Waseem Shafi told ThePrint, he and his family spent the better part of their day watching the series at their home in Srinagar’s Chanapora area.
Only in the evening, when the curfew was relaxed, would they go to the market for chores, he said.
“A friend of mine suggested the series. There was nothing to do during the clampdown and I started to watch it. Slowly, my family got interested too,” added Shafi, who runs a business with his father.
“My father, before he heads out of the home, strictly asks us to pause the series if we are watching it.”
Shafi added that, like him, many in Kashmir were “rediscovering” Islamic history through Dirilis Ertugrul. “Besides we can relate to the series culturally and politically, especially in today’s atmosphere when there is massive repression on several freedoms and rights,” he said.
In the series, protagonist Ertugrul, who marries a Seljuk princess, is seen battling the Byzantine empire, Christian crusaders, Mongols and internal Muslim opposition.
It has five seasons, all of them with more than 25 episodes, each around two hours long.
It’s now available in 45-minute capsules on Netflix, but the portal remains unavailable for Kashmiris amid the internet shutdown.
The series aired between 2013 and 2018, but only picked up a following in Kashmir around last year, with local residents relying on subtitles to follow the narrative.
According to Kashmiris, the non-availability of internet, coupled with restrictions on civil movement and the shutdown between August and October, contributed to its popularity, to the extent that “analysing” the series is becoming an activity of sorts at coaching centers, street corners and even at mosques.
Word travels fast
As for how they gained access to the show, many people here had downloaded the series before the internet ban, while some got it on trips outside the Valley. These are then shared between different households.
Rainawar-based Irfan Ahmed said news that he had all five seasons travelled so fast that he “couldn’t believe it”.
“I was astounded. The neighbour told me that my name had come up during discussions with friends who requested him to introduce them to me,” Ahmed added.
The popularity of the show coincides with an attempt by the union territory administration to stop airing channels from some foreign countries, reportedly to curb any possible impact on law-and-order situations.